After several nights in the hospital keeping mom company, it was nice to be home last night, and to sleep 12 hours without interruption. While at the hospital, mom kept insisting I go home at night to sleep, but I preferred staying with her, just in case she needed anything overnight. I felt like I slept well enough in the lounger, but our sleep was interrupted every two hours by nurses or PCAs coming in to check vital signs, or take blood. I always fell right back asleep, but I guess it wasn’t very restful. We were in the hospital because mom had her spleen removed on Wednesday. In March, her oncologist had located a mass on the spleen, and the only way he would know whether it was cancerous was to remove it. The surgery went according to plan, and though he has to wait for the pathology reports, the doctor is confident it’s cancer. Devastating news, but news that we’ve heard twice before in the last eight years. The doctor didn’t see any spread, which is great, but she’ll likely have to go through chemo again, which blows, blows, blows. Mom’s spirits are high though, and during some of our late night hospital talks, she said she’d like to get to the point this time where she can be at peace with whatever happens. We talked about Buddhism, and faith, and dying. When I cried, I told her it wasn’t so much because of this particular situation, because I have faith she will be treated, and will receive a good prognosis, but because of the inevitability of life. The fact that, as Buddha said, all things that have a beginning, have an ending (accept this and you will find peace). We talked and talked, and reminded ourselves that life is to be enjoyed moment by moment, because future moments, hours, days, weeks are not guaranteed to anyone–healthy or not.
While spending time at the hospital, I walked the corridors and looked at the people who were there. In the past, mom had told me that she always felt so isolated and alone in her battle with cancer. That everyone around her seemed so healthy and carefree. Well, at the hospital it is clear that there are so, so many fighting the same battle. The day of her surgery, we had to be at the hospital by 5:30 a.m. We left at 4:00 a.m. and everything was quiet and peaceful. There was next to no traffic, and we made it to the hospital with no trouble. When we walked in to the surgery registration room, it was alive with noise and conversation, and nearly every seat was taken with people waiting their turn for surgery. People had suitcases with them, and I wondered how many were there for their first operation, and nervous about what was to come. After mom checked in, we and one other family got called to the door by an employee. “I’m going to escort you to the James Cancer Center,” she told us as we walked down the hallway. During our walk to the Center, I started recognizing some of the scenery–the hallway that led to the coffee shop, the walgreens, etc. It had been a few years since my last trip to the center, but nothing had changed.
Once we got to the lobby for the James, we had to wait a little longer before mom would be escorted to the surgery prep room. When it was her turn, she and David went; the administration allows only one person to be with the patient prior to surgery. I told her I’d see her in a little while and watched as they walked to the prep room. It would be nearly an hour before David would return, and during that time I’d watch as numerous other families were escorted to the lobby of the James Center.
The atrium was where we waited for word on the surgery. It’s a very organized system; the patient’s family checks in at the front desk, and whenever the front desk attendants learn information from the surgery room, they come and tell the family. There’s also a large, digital board displaying the status of the patient’s surgery, like the kind one looks for in an airport to see if a plane has arrived. Each patient is assigned a number for anonymity, so the family can go to the board with the number and see whether or not their family member is still in surgery. The atrium was also full of people. One of the families I had noticed in the James Center lobby was sitting near me in the atrium. The doctor came to speak to them after surgery, and the prognosis for their family member must have been poor because they all wept after the doctor left. I cried too.
The next morning, I left mom’s room at 6:00 a.m. to go get breakfast. When I entered the lobby of the James Center, I saw that families and patients were already waiting to be taken to the surgery prep room. More were being escorted down the hallway as I walked to the cafeteria. That’s when I realized the circuity of the situation, the constant stream of new patients, walking the same path as the patient from yesterday, with their own fears and apprehensions and hopes. It’s a well worn path that gets worked every day at this hospital.
After a few days in the hospital it was time for mom to go home. The PCA brought her a wheelchair, and escorted us to the front of the center where David was going to meet us with his car. On the elevator ride down, the PCA said they had 18 people out of surgery and waiting for rooms. The day before they had 23 people waiting for post-surgery rooms and only 3 discharges. It’s tragic, but no one is alone in this experience–it happens to so many.